The Island Express track team members line up for a late cross country meet in front of coaches and founders Al Garcia, second from right, and Rob Freeman, far right.
ALL SHORES -- Rob Freeman, a 39 year-old Department of Sanitation worker, wanted something better for his three children, and dared to dream.
A former runner for Susan Wagner HS, he admitted, “Running track in high school was one of the highlights of my life. It was a good environment, and I wanted that for my kids.”
He began taking his son, Brandon, to practice with the Prospect Park Youth Running Club, and thought, “Why not something like this on the Island?”
He noted, “I had seen the growth of travel teams in other sports, and thought that the Island needed something like this. Track and field has kind of been on the backburner for many kids and their parents.”
So, last year, the Island Express track team was formed.
The club team is open to anyone who wants to join, and there are more than 35 youngsters now exposed to what Freeman says are “greater levels of competition, and better experiences.”
Along the way, Freeman needed help, and found it with Charles Clark and the Garcias, Al and Youree, parents of promising young runners.
The Garcias are graduates of St. John’s University. Al Garcia, now a vice-principal, was a champion miler. Wife Youree was named the Outstanding Performer at the 1986 Big East outdoor championship meet after winning three gold medals. Clark, who works for the Department of Corrections, is no slouch, either, having been a star runner at New York Tech.
Freeman said, “They know a lot more about track than I do. With their experience, I let them do the coaching. I run the team Web site, handle the paper-work, and act as a publicity person.”
With no home track, and no indoor facilities, the club has been scrambling for practice sites.
Now, with the bad winter weather, they go indoors twice a week to the Catholic Youth Center (CYO) in Port Richmond.
There’s a little jogging, maybe a few short sprints, and plenty of drills that stress overall physical fitness.
Al Garcia notes, “We take anyone who wants to join, show them proper conditioning, and try to instill in them the philosophy of proper training.”
Freeman stresses the low-key approach, noting that, “We want the kids to be exposed to something positive, to live a positive lifestyle, and to experience working with a group.”
Garcia said, “There’s no extra pressure on the kids and their families. We want them hungry for high school track and field.”
Freeman added, “Our goal is not to produce champion athletes. We want them to have fun. If they become champions along the way, fine.”
There’s been considerable success already.
There have been medalists in youth competitions in Florida and Rhode Island, and participation at the Millrose Games. And the club was a recipient of a USA Track and Field grant, which helps to defray expenses.
In a sport where there’s often conflict and jealousies between high school and club coaches, Freeman notes ties are severed once the young athlete graduates from grammar school.
We don’t accept high schoolers,” he said.
Garcia concluded, “We could probably be doing a lot more in terms of workouts, but that’s not the type of club we want.”
He noted, “Charles and I have it easy. Rob does all the work. He’s the backbone of the club — a great communicator, organizer, and motivator.”